Vocalist and songwriter, Kellin Quinn of Sleeping with Sirens, sits down with OTwo Editor, Isabella Ambrosio, for a trip down memory lane about his songwriting and his beginnings.
Sleeping with Sirens, formed in Florida, has toured the world with their post-hardcore instrumentals and catchy vocals. Since their formation in 2009, they’ve released seven studio albums, one live LP, one acoustic EP, and countless singles. Their 2011 single ‘If You Can’t Hang’ has been certified gold, their 2013 album Feel peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Top 200, and the band has sold over one million albums worldwide. On the outside, they’re not played on modern radio stations, so who would know? But to those on the inside, Kellin Quinn, the frontman, and Sleeping with Sirens, is known by nearly everyone. For instance, Quinn featured on the platinum track ‘King for a Day’ with Pierce the Veil, which has accumulated over 300 million streams. It’s safe to say it is Sleeping with Sirens’ relatability and the emotional weight of Quinn’s songwriting that draws people to Sleeping with Sirens and has done so for over a decade.
It’s Sleeping with Sirens’ relatability and the emotional weight hidden in Quinn’s songwriting that draws people to Sleeping with Sirens and has done so for over a decade.
I’ve been listening to Sleeping with Sirens since 2011. Now, whenever I think of that time, I think of how their lyrics weaved their way into my memory and now embody my nostalgia for some of the most important times of my life. Only they can convince me that I’m physically back in the places I left long ago.
Sleeping with Sirens has captured the hearts of many fans, who like me have made their music their solace during their struggles with mental health, addictions, familial trauma. Sleeping with Sirens seemed to ease that pain, that struggle, and it felt like Kellin Quinn understood me, along with many others.
From the original discovery of their 2011 record, Let’s Cheers to This, at the age of 10 to falling in love with their sound and the way Kellin Quinn wrote about his inner turmoil in a way I’d never heard before till their 2019 record, How It Feels to Be Lost. The pain and suffering captured in that record forced me to hold a mirror up to my own turmoil. Even their most recent release in 2022, Complete Collapse shines a light on my darkest shadows. Sleeping with Sirens has captured the hearts of many fans, who like myself have made their music their solace during their struggles with mental health, addictions, familial trauma. The band seemed to ease that pain, that struggle, and it felt like Kellin Quinn understood me, along with many others.
As certain songs from their discography shift between the telling of stories and emotional admissions, Quinn’s approach to songwriting varies, “I think it’s all three,” when asked if he views songwriting as therapeutic, storytelling or entertainment, “I’m trying to find new ways to approach it lately. I think that I’m going to bring a notebook on this tour. I like to go for runs, especially on tour, because you can get away from everyone and I can find my balance. Touring is very chaotic, and you’re in a new place every day, and there’s a schedule, and you’re bombarded around, really. So, I like to get my foot in whatever town or city I’m in and go for a run. I think I’d like to find a place to sit down and write some lyrics, and jot out some ideas. Before I even find the music and stuff in it. Because usually what I’ll do is listen to the band and the music that they create, and I’ll find the words that fit, but it’ll be nice to have something to look through,” I suggest that it’s something to fall back on in the future and he agrees, “Yeah, maybe something that’s from somewhere else that I wouldn’t even think to put with the music, something that I randomly thought of, that’s interesting. I think with songwriting you have to constantly grow and want to evolve, otherwise, you stay very stagnant, like anything else, it’s the training of your brain to find new ways to bring something to the table.”
Quinn’s inspiration for songwriting varies, whether it’s the open discussion of his struggles with his mental health and other external factors, “I definitely feel like it’s easier to write songs from a place of struggle, and just going through hardships. I feel like things just pour out of you during those times, and it’s way harder to write songs when you’re complacent, and actually in a good spot, unfortunately,” he admits with a grin, “It’s just the way it is. So, you have to dig deep into those emotions that you’re trying to get across. I don’t think you necessarily have to always write songs from a sad place, but for whatever reason, it is a lot easier when you’re going through hard shit to just be like, I gotta get this outta me. I feel like some of our best records were written during a time of frustration, sadness, or hard times.”
'One of the things that’s been really cool for me is seeing people find records that we made a while back, but it’s new to them now. And seeing those feelings and emotions that I might not be going through anymore, like triggering something they’re going through now.'
And he finds catharsis within his own work, sending it out into the world, where others can find solace in it for years to come, “I think when you’re getting through those moments in your music, and you’re getting it out, then you send it out into the world, and it helps people who are going through that. One of the things that’s been really cool for me is seeing people find records that we made a while back, but it’s new to them now. And seeing those feelings and emotions that I might not be going through anymore, like triggering something they’re going through now. Music has that ability to last when communication like this,” he gestures between the two of us, “Is fleeting. But when you put stuff, like music, out there and send it into the world, people could find it years later and it’s there.”
Stylistically, it’s unique, using language that suggests Quinn and the listener are a pair, one in the same, understood. He muses, “With ‘we’ and ‘us,’ I consciously am thinking about it, because I think that when it’s just about you all the time, as the writer, looking in the first person, maybe it doesn’t hit as hard as thinking in terms of making it more universal towards someone else. I feel like when you use the word ‘we’ or ‘us,’ it becomes this thing where someone else can grab it and it goes, ‘Okay, they are talking about me.’ I guess that is a thought that I have. It could also come down to the phonetic, of singing things a certain way, too.”
Quinn’s songwriting has a way of understanding you when you don’t even understand you.
Sleeping with Sirens is objectively a great band, but there’s more to them than just their impressive accolades. From their iconic and borderline-signature soaring choruses with catchy hooks in ‘P.S. Missing You’ and ‘I’ll Take You There (feat. Shayley Bourge),’ to their downright dirty riffs in tracks like ‘Bloody Knuckles’ and ‘Tally It Up, Settle The Score,’ and their melodic nature in ‘Let You Down (feat. Charlotte Sands)’ and ‘Another Nightmare,’ they have a cohesive, distinctive sound that has been finetuned and meticulously crafted. Yet lyrically is where Sleeping with Sirens thrives. Kellin Quinn is unapologetically honest, he allows himself to reveal his raw human experience and suffering to others, whether it’s to teach them, comfort them, or identify with them – Quinn isn’t concerned. He’s able to articulate his feelings in a way I, as well as many others, couldn’t quite grasp as a child, but subconsciously, was drawn towards, because there was something about it that spoke to me. With time, I found myself going back to those songs and beginning to understand why my brain gravitated towards them in the first place. These anthems that understood and explained everything I had been feeling at the time I didn’t yet know how to verbalise it. Quinn’s songwriting has a way of understanding you when you don’t even understand you.
“All of the music I’m interested in are people who are honest and or at least, have slivers of themselves that they attach to the music they make. I think, when you do that, you’re able to connect with people on a deeper level. So, for me, my interest has always been in being honest with music. What else am I going to write about other than things that I’m going through, or things that I see other people going through that I can relate to. There’s always been the songs and the music from an earlier youthful aspect, when we were talking about records that mean a lot to me, Linkin Park has always done that. The Used’s first record was very much that. It’s an influence that has been bestowed,” he smiles, “upon me from a young age. Those were the records that meant the most to me, so that’s the kind of record I like to make.”
'All of the music I’m interested in are people who are honest and or at least, have slivers of themselves that they attach to the music they make. I think, when you do that, you’re able to connect with people on a deeper level.'
Even with his experiences in songwriting, his poetic nature, to which he credits the cohesiveness of his discography, is unintentional: “I don’t mean to tie things together, I know a lot of people Tweet at me and say, ‘you’ve used this phrase in multiple songs,’ and it just comes down to running out of words,” he self deprecates before he begins to laugh,“Or maybe you like the way that they sound when you sing them, it could be simple things like that. And then when it does happen, maybe it’s a subconscious thing, it’s interesting how it does tie in together. My ultimate goal is to feel something. If it makes me feel something or another member of my band feel something, like Justin [Hills], sometimes when I show him a song we’re working on or he hears a song that we’re finishing, and he’ll go like this,” Quinn raises his arm and imitates having goosebumps, ‘Look at the hair on my arms, it’s standing up,’ you know? And then I’m like, oh, okay, that must mean it’s cool.”
Quinn’s mother was the one who introduced him to the kind of bands that just make you feel something, “I was really into listening to music when I was younger. My mom lived in Southern California, and I lived here, in Oregon, and there’s not really any cool music. I felt like we were always behind on trends, so when she would come to visit from California, she’d bring all of these interesting bands and music with her. And I would ask, what is this and where did this come from? One of my earlier memories was listening to the Third Eye Blind self-titled record for the first time and being like, this is really cool. And also, just having the musical freedom with her to buy records and listen to different things. She didn’t have a problem with me, at 12 or 13 years old, listening to Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock and stuff,” he laughs, “Without being able to listen to that stuff, I wouldn’t have been able to broaden my horizons. That kind of got me into wanting to pursue making music myself just because I was so cool,” he jokes, “And being able to create those sounds, not specifically Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock, but,” he laughs again, even harder, “But, you know, creating music was my interest.”
His teenage years spent listening to Linkin Park and in his church’s skatepark were formative in his journey with music, “I definitely think the Tony Hawk soundtrack had a lot to do with [becoming a musician],” Quinn mentions with a smile, “I grew up with my parents being pretty religious, and because of that, I was dragged along to youth group. And in my middle school and high school years, there was a ‘cool,’” he mimics air quotes, “youth group guy that had a skateboard. And an indoor skate park next to the church, so me and my friends would go to skate, and we’d have to listen to 15 minutes of a teaching and then after, we could skate and listen to whatever we wanted, as long as there was no cursing or whatever. I remember the Tony Hawk video game and playing with my friends, and hearing punk rock for the first time, was massive for me. That was definitely a big memory. And I think Hybrid Theory by Linkin Park was a massive influence on me wanting to get into heavier music.”
With that time spent in the skatepark, post-hardcore and punk became important genres for Quinn to fall back on as a teenager, “I’d say Drive-Thru Records is my biggest foot in the door of Warped Tour and punk rock. Listening to Finch, The Starting Line, Senses Fail, those bands and having those Drive-Thru [Records] DVDs and getting to see the band be on a tour bus and playing festivals, outside festivals, was major for me. I think a record I listened to nonstop was Meteora by Linkin Park, or it would be, the first Used record, with ‘A Box Full of Sharp Objects’ and ‘The Taste of Ink.’”
Music has become integral to Quinn’s identity. He’s a career musician, who writes songs with other artists and features on different tracks outside of Sleeping with Sirens, but he also grew up as an avid listener of rock. Music has just always been there. On the topic, he says, “I think it gave me an identity. Before, you know, when you’re younger and you go along with what other kids do, like sports, I tried all that stuff, and I wasn’t particularly terrible at them, but it didn’t pique my interest as much as skateboarding, listening to music, and going to local shows. That was way more fun to me than being involved in school functions. I did a lot of talent shows when I was younger, and that was a way for me to stand out, or be cool I guess,” he smiles to himself. I ask about some of his talent show songs, “I was a rapper back in the day. I had bleach-blonde spikey hair, I wore puka shell necklaces, I looked like the dude on Malibu’s Most Wanted or whatever,” he jokes. He said he discovered his love for songwriting after he mentioned his early rapping career, “Probably when I was doing my version of rap, or whatever, and having a notebook and writing poetry and making words rhyme. I wasn’t a singer at first, it was more finding words that worked together with music. So I had a buddy who was a DJ, or well, he did DJ stuff for Quincenarias,” he laughs with a wide smile, “He was my talent show DJ buddy, and he would find these records that didn’t have words to them and I would put my words to them.”
Quinn hasn’t stopped since he was first introduced to the world of singing through talent shows. For instance, he’s recently picked up a guitar, “I’ve been learning how to play the guitars, there’s like amps and shit back there,” he angles his camera to show the amps behind him, piled with framed golden and platinum certifications for his music, “It’s been a lot of listening to music from that standpoint of, ‘Oh, I wonder how they play that on guitar,’ or ‘I wonder how that rhythm comes about,’ so I haven’t really been listening to music, in a sense, coming from a place of writing as a vocalist, in a long time, which is probably something I should get back to, because,” he chuckles, “I think my band is ready to start writing some stuff.”
With the idea of new music on the horizon, Quinn reflects on the way that Complete Collapse impacted him, “We had just made a record beforehand, the Gossip album. We were on a major label, we had these people in our ear, and we were working with a producer that was relatively difficult to work with, and it kind of pushed me and the guys apart from each other, and I was struggling with a lot of things mentally. It was a really, really hard time in my life. I think that record came out, like a phoenix burning, and turning into dust, and creating this thing out of it… there was a lot of shit that led up to making that record… It was great because we were making a record with Zakk Cervini, who we had worked with previously, so there was a friendship there, but it was new. And it just ended up the completely opposite of the project before, from being in this negative space… to ‘let’s get back to writing these songs that made me feel something.’”
Sleeping with Sirens has spoken to the emotions of millions of people, from their 2010 debut record, With Ears To See And Eyes To Hear to 2022’s Complete Collapse. Quinn’s beginnings as a musician may started early in his life, but his words and work will likely live on far past our lifetime and continue to move people emotionally, just as they did for me.